January 3, 2020

Why Over-Discipling is Always a Bad Idea

11pm. It’s been a long day. You have just locked the door, brushed your teeth, and crawled into bed. You go to set your alarm on your phone, only to find a missed call from a lady you have been discipling. What do you do? Phone her back? You know that if you do, sleep won’t be coming anytime soon. Maybe you should pretend to ignore it? Turn your phone off so she can’t call again?

Maybe your tendency is to phone her back, or at least pop her a text to see if she is ok. You may be thinking, If I don’t help her, who will? She needs me. I’ve got to be there for her. This is where we need to examine our own heart and check our motivation. Before we know it, we can end up exhausted, running on empty, and attempting to put out every proverbial fire—all in the name of “discipleship”.

Saviour Complex

Now, let me be straight. I don’t mean to in any way dismiss the importance of everyday discipleship. The Bible clearly tells us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. There’s no question that making disciples of all nations involves dying to self daily (even hourly). But often, as we mature in our faith and begin discipling others, we can slowly lose the wonder of the cross, forget the depths of our sin, and begin to think we have ‘made it’.

I think all of us involved in discipling others (especially younger believers) need to ask God to search our hearts and motivations to to see if we have subtly adopted a ‘saviour complex’. There’s a very fine line between pointing others to Jesus and pointing others to ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but I am a ‘fixer’. If I see a problem, my tendency is to try and work out a way to fix it. This can come out in many different ways. For example: If you tell me you’re feeling ill, I’ll turn into doctor Emily, wanting to diagnose you then and there. Or if it’s clear that you’re upset, I’ll try do whatever I can to cheer you up.

Just the other day, a parcel I was waiting for never arrived. So what did I do? Spent two hours trying to hunt it down, of course. I phoned all sorts of numbers, went to the local shop, sent several emails, and got very frustrated in the process. The problem is, when I start on a task, I find it hard to stop. I want to fix things. I want to work things out and make things better.

How does this impact discipleship? In more ways than we realise. We have this burning desire to see new believers we are discipling grow and change, but often we want to fast track the hard, long slog. Our one-to-one’s can quickly turn into advice-giving sessions where we simply try and do what we can to ‘solve their problem’. Been there? Before we know it, we can turn into mini-messiahs, attempting to do the work that only the Holy Spirit can do.

Bad Advice

Consider this example. A lady you’re meeting with pours out her heart to you, telling you she has been angry and impatient all week towards her kids. As she explains, she seems to suggest that it’s all because the kids have been playing up. She’s basically saying that everything would be okay if she could just have a kid-free night. Before you know it, she’s won your sympathy, and you’ve given some lame advice about parenting and even offered to babysit next week.

What’s happened here? Is this good discipleship? Although your friend will forever love you and enjoy her night out, you haven’t offered her any biblical hope or encouraged her to examine her own heart. Maybe worst of all, you’ve allowed yourself to become her ‘saviour’, rather than pointing her to the Lord, the true Saviour.

Have you ever felt like you can’t rest? Can’t stop working? Can’t switch off? These might be some practical warning signs that you are trying to be the saviour in discipleship. I’ve been challenged by how busyness—although not always bad—can be deeply rooted in pride. Subconsciously, we can believe the ugly lie that people need us. Perhaps we’ve even succumbed to the lie that God, the Creator of the universe, needs us!


I was humbled recently by a new believer I’m discipling. Due to a range of circumstances, we hadn’t managed to meet in a number of weeks. When we finally caught up, I was expecting her to tell me that her life was falling apart and that she was struggling spiritually. Instead, she shared the work the Holy Spirit had been doing in her life over the past few weeks, helping her fight sin and pursue godliness.

I felt as though a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. It helped me see again my own pride and desire for control. I actually thought that this young woman wouldn’t be coping without me. But praise God, that wasn’t the case! I was reminded of God’s faithfulness. This wasn’t an excuse for me to bolt and give up on discipleship, but what it did remind me was that I need to take the pressure off myself and trust God. If someone is genuinely born again, then they have the Holy Spirit, who is their greatest and most powerful helper.

Trust God

Now, none of what I’ve said is meant to lead you to become lazy in discipleship. Rather, I hope it encourages and challenges you to repent of your pride and run to Jesus. Maybe today you are carrying the heavy pastoral burdens of those you disciple. Maybe it feels like a constant and crushing weight. Most likely, this is because you love and care for the souls of those you are walking alongside. But let us never forget, God cares more than we ever could. And only God can transform messy lives.

So cast your cares on the Lord today. Offload your soul as your throw all your burdens at the feet of Jesus. Let’s get on our knees and pray—really pray—for those we are discipling. Luke 22:31–32 shows us that Jesus was praying for Simon Peter’s faith not to fail moments before he denied Jesus. How much more should we be praying and trusting God to hold us and others fast through the trials, temptations, and battles we all face? Hold on to God’s promises and ask Him to do what you cannot.

“We must decrease, but He must increase” (John 3:30) Let’s pray that God helps us constantly point others to Him, not ourselves, so that those we disciple become dependent on God, not us. Only then will we see real and lasting fruit, and sweet rest and joy in discipling others. All for God’s glory.

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